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the take

Is ‘The Wire’ Turning Into ‘Studio 60’?

Courtesy of HBO

As any journalist can tell you, liars are rarely caught. They usually snare themselves: by overreaching, by sweetening the lie, by getting too close to it. This season on The Wire, tireless Jeremiah David Simon (who, you may have heard, is a former Baltimore Sun journalist) delivers a thundering sermon against the very lyingest of the lying liars — politicos, civil servants, newspaper editors, drug kingpins — and the lies they tell. We know (from the media) that it's All True. So why does so much out of The Wire's mouth this season sound like bullshit?

And not just any bullshit. The newsroom scenes are starting to feel suspiciously like … dare we speak its name? … Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, last season's transfixing misfire of a media dissertation. Simon, like that other talented pop-didact, Aaron Sorkin, knows wherefrom he rants. He's lived some of The Wire, and what he hasn't lived, he's covered or crammed. He's bringing a career's worth of ink-stained attitude and righteous grievance to this final season — that angry itch that gets a reporter out of bed in the morning. Sorkin, too, wore his heart on his sleeve, railing against censorship and small-mindedness (though his attitude toward corporate ownership proved far more romantic).

But great Mencken's ghost, these purple barroom orations! These fussy semiotic discussions — talk about tumescent! No, really: These reporters talk about "tumescent." The old-timers are supermen, hard-bitten street poets of unassailable integrity, so naturally, they must suffer the slings and arrows of ruthless, stupid management. Still, heads held high, they call newspaper journalism "the life of kings" — somewhat ruefully, sure, but behind the thin scrim of irony lurks an affection so massive, it can't be contained. Simon's writing the Death of Newspapers as a passion play. Can a visit from Eli Wallach as the Ghost of Newsmen Past be far behind?

"The bigger the lie, the more they believe," Bunk opines in the season opener. Perhaps. But the closer the lie, the harder it is to swallow. And Simon's far too close this season. It's like he's spent the first four seasons on the disease, and now he wants the cure. Of course, the disease, on The Wire, has always been the point. The cure is the lie. —Scott Brown